Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

D. Eliades: “Cyprus wants to stay outside any military alliance”

(BRUSSELS2, in Nicosia, exclusive) Originally from Famagusta, now in the Turkish zone, the Cypriot Minister of Defense Demetris Eliades (*) defines himself “ like a refugee in my own country ". Lawyer, MP, then Minister of Agriculture Demetris Eliades became Minister of Defense by accident... Even because of an accident, since he took office a year ago, on July 14, 2011, just three days after the explosion of an ammunition depot on the Evangelos Florakis naval base in Zygi. 13 people died, including the commander of the naval base. Six soldiers are still subject to legal proceedings for “negligence”. During a dinner offered by the Cypriot president, we were able to discuss the meaning of a Cypriot army, its integration into the European Union, relations with NATO, France... and the situation in the Middle East so close ! Excerpts…

• How you define the European presidency for a country like Cyprus?

It's about proving to ourselves – and to Europe – that we can be a credible and creative partner.

• What is the role of the army or rather the “National Guard” since that is its official name?

It's a tool. It's like a knife. It depends on how you use it. In my mind and that of the Cypriot government, this army is intended to defend the country. You have to realize that we only have 15.000 men. This is not very important compared to the 45.000 Turkish soldiers present on the other side, not counting those who are in Turkey. We have no navy, except coast guard patrol ships; no combat aircraft, just helicopters (NB: Gazelles and Mi-35s mainly). But we are determined to defend our territory, our population. We have no other choice. We have no country to retreat to. On the other side, there is only the sea.

• Does military service remain long?

Yes, it lasts 24 months. But it is mandatory given our situation. It is impossible to diminish it, to always maintain a force capable of reacting.

• Until now, Cyprus had an increasing defense budget? The crisis has hit

Yes. Our budget went down this year. And the trend for next year is not upward. The budget discussion begins in a few weeks. And it's not going to be easy...

• What is the status of the island, are you neutral?

Cyprus wants to stay outside any military alliance. We were a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (until 2004). Today we are members of the European Union. Cyprus is fully involved in the common European defense and security policy. We participate in all EU defense missions, within our means (NB: by sending a few officers, for EUTM Somalia, Cyprus also provided equipment for Somali soldiers). The only mission in which Cyprus does not participate is the military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR Althea) as it is under Berlin Plus, with NATO command.

• So NATO membership is not on the agenda?

No. And even if we wanted it, it wouldn't be possible. We could not take a step without immediately being subject to a (Turkish) veto. As we have already been in several international agreements or organizations (NB: the Wassenaar agreement for example).

• Can EU-NATO relations develop, however?

Yes. We are for strengthening the dialogue between the two organizations. But there is, in fact, a problem of relations between the two organizations. Not by us. Turkey does not want to recognize that the European Union is made up of 27 countries. And she vetoes any attempt at rapprochement. While Cyprus has not put the slightest veto or disagreement on the strengthening of the (EU) dialogue with NATO.

• And with France ?

You know, no one here forgets that in the worst days of 1974 (during the Turkish offensive), the French were the first to supply weapons to the Cypriot army, then followed by others, the Belgians... etc. On the other hand, the Americans and British provided nothing. Not even a bullet. I maintain good relations with my French counterparts. I met Gérard Longuet and I hope to see your new minister JY Le Drian soon. Many Cypriot officers are received or trained by their counterparts in France.

• Cyprus is very close to the Middle East, even almost in the Middle East, how do you see the evolution, particularly in Syria ?

I am anxious, worried not only about Syria but about the entire region. We can really wonder if after spring, we will not see the arrival of a new “Arab winter” which will follow another Arab winter. The European Union must become more involved in this issue (**). We must strengthen democratic institutions, democratic life, weave links, not just economic ones, in cultural matters, education, energy and security. We must be able to discuss with all elected governments…

• The Muslim Brotherhood as Helzbollah?

These governments were elected. We will see in the next election whether they will be re-elected or defeated. In the meantime, we must discuss with them and support democracy.

• And Hamas?

Europe does not discuss with movements but with governments.

  • (*) Born in 1947, in Lefkoniko in the district of Famagusta, Demetris Eliades studies law at the University of Athens. He practices in Nicosia, and was elected in 1985 to the House of Representatives. Position he held until 2001. He chaired the Environment Committee. In 2005, he became a member of the board of directors of the central bank until March 2010, when he was appointed Minister of Agriculture. He was appointed Minister of Defense on July 14, 2011. Married, he has two children, Sofia and Yannis.
  • (**) One of the first events organized by the Ministry of Defense during the Cypriot presidency, last Monday and Tuesday (July 2 and 3) was precisely devoted to “Middle East and security” (with the former minister Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs MA Moratinos, and the EU special representatives for the Mediterranean, Bernadino Leon, and for the peace process in the Middle East Andreas Reinicke and the academic Aref-al-Obeid (read one of his analyzes on the syrian revolt).

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).